When longtime La Cañada Elementary School librarian Kay Bahrami passed away unexpectedly in March, a dedicated group of staff members, parents and volunteers banded together to keep the school library afloat.
They spent hours buoying students’ love of reading and manning the desk until a new librarian could be found. Thanks to their determination operations ran nearly to the end of the school year, when doors closed to accommodate a planned library remodel funded by the school’s PTA.
Now, as the 2019-20 school year begins, a new librarian — La Cañada Unified parent and former Paradise Canyon Elementary School reading support teacher Billie Melillo — is looking at the space with new eyes and imagining new uses for LCE’s book collection.
“I know these are big, big, big shoes to fill,” the mother of four said of following Bahrami, who helmed the library for three decades, relying on her razor-sharp memory rather than a computer catalog. “I want to honor Kay but also mix it up a little bit as well and get kids excited about coming into the library.”
A recent Friday found Melillo leading a group of volunteers, including son Spencer and fellow La Cañada High School junior Emily Strauss, who’d decided to tackle the monstrous task of reshelving 180 boxes of picture books and 260 boxes of nonfiction titles for their Eagle Scout and Girl Scout Gold Award projects.
Regardless of the brisk pace of their work, the new library, whose interior was redesigned by LCE parent Christina Conwell, won’t be fully finished for a couple more weeks. But it will be open for the first day of school.
A former L.A. Unified teacher, Melillo says she’s already excited for the year ahead. She visited libraries in other school districts for inspiration and regularly consults with former Paradise Canyon librarian Connie Knight, who retired in 2015 but is assisting during the remodel.
Over the top a shelf of Halloween-themed books that will soon be in demand, she placed a banner reading: “Tremendous things are in store for you!”
“As a reading teacher I always loved sparking a love of reading in kids, and I loved finding books for them,” she said. “So when the position became available I was just incredibly excited.”
LCE Principal Emily Blaney said she appreciated the effort of those who came together to run the library last spring and allow time for her to find a new librarian.
“I was so thrilled to see Billie was a candidate,” Blaney said of the interview process. “I feel like it was meant to be.”
Despite the unfolding of what will be a new La Cañada Elementary School library, signs of Bahrami’s love of books and influence on generations of young readers remain. Hand-drawn tributes created by students last spring have been transformed by Melillo’s loving hands into a collage backsplash behind the front desk.
Knight, who came to the district in 1986 and worked with both Bahrami and Melillo, said she’s optimistic about the library’s future.
“My hope is that they continue sharing the love of books and getting kids excited about reading,” she said. “I think Billie is an excellent fit.”
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